The cast list is something of a who's who of British cinema with leading roles for Bob Hoskins (seen above in the final scene in which any doubts about his acting ability are put completely to rest) and Helen Mirren as his remarkably patient wife.
Hoskins plays London mobster Harold Shand. Shand is a pretty nasty piece of work, by no means above using extreme violence to get his way. The tables are about to be turned on him, though, and in a big way.The shot above shows a very young Pierce Brosnan as "1st Irishman" stabbing Shand's best friend in one of the film's early scenes. This was Brosnan's first film role, just as a matter of interest.
The plot centres around Shand's attempts to find out who is trying to muscle in on his "manor" and his bullish refusal to realise that his time is over along with that of all the old time gangsters who had some sort of code of honour, or at least believed their own hype that they did. The coming men are bigger, uglier and more ruthless than anything Shand or his ilk can believe, let alone deal with.
In the finest tradition of cinema this is a riveting tragedy. It's difficult to empathise with any of the characters, none of them have any real charm but you still find yourself hoping that the old order will be restored and the underworld can return to the "ten years of peace" that Shand repeatedly refers to.
The direction is very much of its time with some horribly clunky cliches and obviously staged action sequences. When the film was released it was considered a very violent shocker; by today's standards it's decidedly tame on that score and none the worse for that.
If you can look beyond its period piece cinematography and Saturday-afternoon-wrestling stunts it has a gripping narrative. Hoskins carries the film magnificently with the able support of Mirren and a myriad young actors who would later become well known themselves.
Well worth a couple of hours: leave your brain to one side, enjoy the action and then try and name how many gangster films have drawn from this one as a major influence...(it's lots).
Just to sign off, here's a great piece of dialogue between Shand and his right hand man "Jeff" (played by Derek Thompson, later to find regular work as Charlie Fairhead in Casualty). Someone that Shand has been looking for has been discovered in a bad way, Shand is beginning to think that Jeff might be looking after his own interests rather than that of the corporation:
Harold: Alan found him dying. He'd been nailed to the floor.
Jeff: When was this, then?
Harold: Well, it must've been just after you saw him and just before Alan saw him. Otherwise, you'd have noticed, wouldn't you? I mean, a geezer nailed to the floor. A man of your education would definitely have spotted that, wouldn't he?